I think I’m losing it. My campaign, that is. I play online. We use Roll20, like you. My players are constantly distracted though, cracking jokes at every chance, taking forever to get one round of combat… I get that jokes will be made, it’s a game, but it’s constant. No one takes the game seriously, they’re on Facebook, they’re playing other games. I don’t know if it’s just me, the campaign, or what. I’ve run campaigns for other groups, but this is the first time I’ve really run into a lot of trouble with “table talk” and distractions.
Modron?! -Shivers- Planescape…
Distracted players, it can be a massive problem. Three or four years ago, my regular weekly group met at my computer repair shop to play. This group was, on average, 7 players strong. It consisted of best friends, new players, and people who couldn’t leave their phone down. Some players used laptops or tablets for their sheets, others were pen and paper. It wasn’t too bad to start, because everyone wanted to learn how to play and enjoy the game; but as it got into the middle and later levels and the players “felt comfortable” it got rough. Players would be texting, chatting on other players turns, not paying attention and surfing the web…
Nothing hits harder than coming up with something you think is engaging and fun, then being ignored. As a GM, it feels like failure. But, do not blame yourself. There are thing you can do to re-engage the players. It took several different tactics, each geared to specific players in the group, till things started working back out.
Tactic 1: Don’t repeat yourself.
I talked to my players ahead of time. I told them I didn’t really feel very respected when I call someone’s turn and they go “Wait, what happened?” Or they said they didn’t know something happened early on in the night that came back to haunt them later. I told them, “If you don’t hear me the first time, you don’t hear me.”
It was a drastic first step, but I needed the players to know how I felt. It worked for a little bit. The players would get distracted, ask what I said, and be left out of the loop. The players that paid attention wouldn’t explain either, they felt rewarded for listening the first time. But… One or two players would still get too caught up, week after week, and not care about what they missed.
Tactic 2: Lower the Tech.
This one really only works at the game table. I flat out banned tech at the table. Keep your phone in your pocket, answer for emergencies. I had the tech needed to look rules up. I was tired of the texting back and forth, and texting to people outside of the game. We went to candle light D&D. It was fantastic. Eventually tech came back, but was restricted use. No surfing, no texting constantly, limit use to when it’s not your turn only.
Tactic 3: Notecards/Whisper
Still, after lowered tech, and not repeating myself… We had the constant quips from the group. Everything I said was followed by “that’s what she said” or had some sort of “oh this reminds me of when…” Finally, I said no more. Jokes are fine in moderation, this is a fun night with friends, jokes SHOULD happen. But, not every sentence I speak needs to be followed by a joke or story. Instead, if you had something you wanted to say, write it down on index cards. I supplied them to the table. I also said that these index cards should be handed to me if you had something secret your character wanted to do. On Roll20 you can use the /whisper feature to the same effect! Preventing spoken interruption, while letting the players still joke back and forth.
Tactic 4: Get Attention
-Sigh.- Even the note passing got in the way. Things would still be missed, and players would want me to wait for them to finish writing this or that. So, I started looking for ways to get attention. Handouts were perfect for this. They force the player to look at something involved with the game, and in the game world. Something tangible to mess with. In Roll20, you can click show to players, and it will pop up on their screen. The sudden flash of a handout on there is likely interrupt what they were distracted with. Handouts normally had clues or were puzzles of some sort. They were very fast to make, especially on Roll20, and easy enough to use that I didn’t mind doing a little extra to make them stand out.
Final Tactic: Reward Engagement.
With all of these in place, the players were doing pretty good. There were still some troubled times between them all, so my final tactic was to reward the players for playing the game and respecting me. The handout clues got a little harder, I would drop hints at the start of the night, or during times where players were distracted. At the end of the night players would get bonus rewards based on how they did, individually. This did create a separation in the group, and eventually it got cut down to a core of 4-5 people. But, these are 4-5 people who respect my time and effort, and enjoy the game when it’s game time. 4-5 people who love playing D&D with me, and I love GMing for them.
Good luck Modron, and may you march onto success!